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Simultaneous Improvement: Safety and Productivity

by Thomas R. Cutler   |   February, 2009

Manufacturing Insights

Safety Improves Productivity

Leading businesses know that safety is not incompatible with efficiency; as a best practice safety enhances productivity. Safety is a competitive advantage since the majority of serious accidents involve stability incidents and vehicular collisions with pedestrians. New safety systems integrate technology with intelligent speed control, vehicle tracking, and pedestrian tracking that can provide both improved safety and increased productivity.

Everyone wants to be safer - vehicle manufacturers, managers, workers, union leaders, and regulatory bodies. Too many safety programs are not fully utilizing technological solutions that are readily available for all aspects of industrial operations; too often when safety interferes with efficiency, safety ranks second on the priority list.

Employees working in or around forklift equipment are statistically exposed to one of the most dangerous work environments in industry. While forklift trucks are involved in only 1% of all industrial accidents, these accidents are responsible for ten percent of physical injuries. In the US, industrial forklifts kill an average of one hundred people per year and seriously injure tens of thousands more. According to US Dept of Labor, OSHA forklift violations (29 CFR 1910.178) are one of the most common OSHA citations, resulting in nearly $1,000,000 in fines each year since 2005.

Cost of Accidents

Safety is a justified goal; however the business costs of forklift accidents have become increasingly a bottom-line issue. The direct cost of accidents with injuries includes medical costs, lost work time, and reduced productivity. More time and money is spent conducting an ensuing investigation as well as designing and implementing safety improvements. The U.S. Department of Labor reports the average cost of a recordable injury in the United States is $35,000. In the most serious cases there are litigation costs, OSHA fines, and repair costs for damaged equipment and facilities.

A repeated pattern of poor safety causes...
  • higher insurance and workers compensation premiums
  • adverse company publicity
  • higher recruiting and training costs
  • low productivity with higher overtime wage expense
  • low morale
Based on data from the National Safety Council and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Alert Safety Products has calculated the costs of an industrial vehicle accident with injury as follows:

  • The median number of lost work days is seven
  • 22.8% of the injuries will result in more than 31 lost work days
  • The direct cost of lost productivity will be $47,000
  • Equipment damage adds another $6,400 in repair costs
  • An OSHA fine will be a minimum of $3,500
  • If a fatality results, costs will exceed $1,000,000
It is clear that a strong business case can be made for investing in safety systems and technology to eliminate hazards and accidents.

Hazard Control Strategy

To systematically improve safety, safety engineers recommend the following strategy for hazard control: Remove, Guard, and Warn. According to Wayne Baxter, President of BaxTek Solutions, a leading safety and quality-focused systems integrator, “Companies must strive to remove the hazard by eliminating the danger…this can be accomplished by designing it out of the system or environment. For example, close or eliminate a blind door opening into a warehouse will eliminate the possibility of a pedestrian walking into forklift traffic.”

Not all hazards can be eliminated so easily and second strategy is to guard the hazard by installing safety apparatus to prevent exposure to the danger. Even if pedestrians and drivers are distracted, guards can protect both from harm. Elevated loading docks may not be eliminated, but automatic barrier guards can be installed to prevent fork trucks from dropping off a vacant receiving dock. Baxter cited a good example as the Rite-Hite RHH dock leveler with the Safe-T-Lip barrier, which prevents forklifts from running off an open dock and can stop a 10,000 pound forklift traveling at up to 4 mph.

If the hazard cannot be eliminated, or exposure to the danger prevented, the only remaining strategy is to warn workers of the hazard. Baxter suggested, “Specific alerts should be communicated only to those directly involved in the hazard situation and only where and when a danger actually exists. Warning lights can be installed at blind corners to warn of oncoming forklifts with a system like the Wickham Fork-Alert product.”

Safety system designers now have new technologies to consider for hazard control, particularly for detecting collision and speeding hazards.

Collision Avoidance: A Technological Approach

Today sensor technology provides the ability to detect and track the location and proximity of vehicles and pedestrians in industrial facilities. Sensors that detect vehicles and people have the ability to work in localized areas, over large areas, and throughout entire facilities. Whether tracking pedestrians or trucks, the best safety technologies will have the following capabilities:
  • Location determination accurate to within a meter or less
  • Velocity determination
  • Determination of orientation or direction of travel
  • Ability to identify vehicles
Baxter suggested, "One of the best solutions for Collision Avoidance is with Sky-Trax, a technology company specializing in optical technology for tracking vehicles and assets inside warehouses. Automation and safety customers insist that we utilize these state-of-the-art warehousing solutions. Technology cannot replace the basics of safety – strong management commitment, good operations design, training, and accountability. A safety conscious culture encourages technology like Sky-Trax because it provides the tools for transforming safety into a competitive advantage."

Reducing vehicle stability accidents and vehicle/pedestrian collisions by using new sensors and intelligent, automated safety solutions, is increasingly recognized by industry leaders, regulatory agencies, and safety researchers as absolutely vital; it is expected that industrial vehicle manufacturers will incorporate the new safety technology into their products, and that all industrial leaders will take advantage of these new capabilities.
Thomas R. Cutler is the President & CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based, TR Cutler, Inc, ( Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium of three thousand journalists and editors writing about trends in manufacturing. Cutler is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, Online News Association, American Society of Business Publication Editors, and Committee of Concerned Journalists, as well as author of more than 300 feature articles annually regarding the manufacturing sector. Cutler can be contacted at See More Details.

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